The Australian government has released a draft bill "for an Act to amend the law relating to communications, and for related purposes" to ensure Australians' online safety. To achieve this goal, authorities want to hold leading social media and tech giants accountable for any misinformation published on their platforms and give the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) sufficient powers to require companies to design and implement the "code of practice." It will also allow ACMA to create its own industry standard to use in the fight against misinformation.
The bill also includes regulations for data management.
"The ACMA may make digital platform rules requiring digital platform providers to keep records and report to the ACMA on matters relating to misinformation and disinformation on digital platform services. The ACMA may obtain information, documents, and evidence from digital platform providers and others relating to those matters. The ACMA may publish information relating to those matters on its website," the bill, published online June 21, states.
To ensure compliance with the new standard, the Australian government plans to introduce fines of up to $1.84 million, which is equivalent to nearly 2.75 million Australian dollars, or 2% of the fined platform’s global revenue, in case 2% surpasses this amount. These penalties will apply to violations of the code of practice, while the lack of compliance with the industry standard will cost companies even more - 6.8 million Australian dollars worth $4.6 million at press time, or up to 5% of global revenue.
According to the news outlet ABC, Michelle Rowland, the Australian federal minister for communications, commented on the bill, saying it would "essentially mean that the regulator is able to look under the hood of what the platforms are doing and what measures they are taking to ensure compliance."
While Rowland claims the government only wants "to keep Australians safe" and " has no intention of stifling freedom of speech in this area," some politicians are already concerned about the impact of the new regulation. For example, David Coleman, shadow minister for communications, told, "This is a complex area of policy, and government overreach must be avoided."
The main problem regarding this bill is the fact that the definition of misinformation can be rather biased. On the one hand, greater support from digital platforms may be useful to address proliferating problems, for example, the increasing number of scams spread through social media accounts. On the other hand, the bill may allow authorities to label any alternative opinion as "misinformation."
Meanwhile, many Twitter users are opposed to the bill, mainly because it could potentially affect the operation of the popular global platforms in Australia, including Google, Twitter, and Facebook.
"We are fully capable of deciding for ourselves what we choose to believe or not believe. It is not the government's job to do this for us, thank you. If you do feel the need, then focus on the mainstream media who have misled Australians for years," Twitter user Shazza expressed a widely held opinion.